Time to hand out grades from the Detroit Lions’ preseason win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s not going to be an easy task, since the story from the starters is far different than that of the reserves, but we’re just going to mix it all up and spit out a grade, because that’s what you’re looking for right now.
Matthew Stafford moved the offense consistently, made a few plays with his legs, and would have had a much better statistical output had his receivers not made a few uncharacteristic drops on key plays. He looks ready for the regular season.
Surprisingly, the Lions’ backup quarterbacks played fairly well, too. Though they were both aided by a solid second-half running game and neither took any shots downfield, they were both efficient on Friday night and managed the game well.
Running backs: A-
Lions running backs combined for 116 yards on 27 carries (4.3 YPC). LeGarrette Blount (4.1), Ameer Abdullah (4.3), Kerryon Johnson (6.3) and Theo Riddick (10.0) all rushed efficiently throughout the game and had minimal mistakes.
The only reason this isn’t an A is because Theo Riddick dropped a pass and no running back outside of a late appearance from Dwayne Washington was effective in the passing game.
Note: If you’re thinking, “Hey, the Lions are looking pretty good so far,” and you want to keep it that way, you should probably stop reading right now.
Wide receivers: C-
Congratulations to Brandon Powell, whose performances both in special teams and on offense single-handedly pulled this unit up a full letter grade.
For the rest of the group, it was an uninspiring day. Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay had bad drops, and the rest of the crew was basically non-factors. The top four receivers combined for this statline:
4 catches (12 targets) for 71 yards
That is just not good enough for a receiving corps that some believe is among the league’s best.
Tight ends: C+
The Lions lost Luke Willson to a knee injury (severity unknown), but the rest of the unit did okay. Hakeem Valles continues to make a serious run at the final roster. Levine Toilolo made a good play—even though he was fortunate his fumble was not considered a fumble. Michael Roberts even picked up a nice first down.
This unit is still a bit underwhelming, but Friday night was a step in the right direction.
Offensive line: C
This is a really tough unit to grade, because not only was the story a lot different in the second half, but the run blocking was a lot different than the pass blocking.
It’s also tough to judge, because the Lions were shuffling the offensive line all night. Frank Ragnow was in a new position at right guard. Kenny Wiggins, Joe Dahl and Leo Koloamatangi all got some rotational time with the first team.
At times, it was ugly. Matthew Stafford was sacked three times, bringing his preseason total to five sacks in eight drives. That’s nowhere near good enough. However, the Lions were able to run the ball consistently throughout the entire game, and especially in the second half. The only place they really struggled: the dang red zone.
Defensive line: C-
Well, the Lions notched their first sack of the preseason, but they literally only got one. That being said, I actually thought the Lions went out and created pressure at a pretty solid rate, relatively speaking. Ricky Jean Francois, Devon Kennard and even Ezekiel Ansah were all able to get the Bucs quarterbacks on the move. It’s not where it needs to be, but it was undoubtedly an improvement from performances we’ve seen in the past.
The run defense continues to be a problem, and while that may have more to do with the linebackers—we’ll get to that in a minute—the holes created by the first and second string Bucs offensive line (which was shorthanded by injury, mind you) were way bigger than acceptable.
Oh, Jarrad Davis. What are we going to do with you? The 2017 first-round pick continues to make mental mistake after mental mistake. He put himself in several positions to make a play on Friday night, and nearly biffed them all. He’s having an absolutely awful preseason and we likely won’t see him again until Week 1 against the Jets. I don’t like to get worried over the preseason, but in regards to Davis individually, I am very worried.
The rest of the crew was caught taking bad angles, filling wrong gaps and getting exploited in coverage. It was a rough outing.
Remember earlier in the week when Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar said that the Lions relied too much on Darius Slay last year and need a No. 2 cornerback to step up? Well, DING DING DING, he was right.
Nevin Lawson was absolutely torched all night on Friday in what has to be one of the most embarrassing preseason performances I’ve ever seen.
But it wasn’t just him. Tavon Wilson had a setback after a good game last week. Even Darius Slay had a rough go of it on Friday. It would be one thing if the Lions were going up against one of the more prolific pass offenses in the league, but the Bucs aren’t expected to be a very good passing team this year.
Special teams: D
If your team gets a 80-yard punt return touchdown, you’d think their overall special teams grade would be through the roof, but when you also cede a 109-yard field goal return touchdown, you get downgraded... severely.
Outside of those two plays, it was mostly bad. The Lions’ coverage teams were really poor, and Ryan Santoso missed a fairly easy field goal (didn’t end up counting, but still).
Okay, let’s talk about it. Matt Patricia’s performance at the end of the first half was... troubling.
Despite having all three timeouts, the Lions ran out the entire clock before getting into field goal range. That turned out to be an okay decision because the Lions didn’t end up converting on third down, but it was still too much wasted time had the Lions been able to move the ball downfield. Also, Patricia curiously took a timeout to attempt the field goal with seven seconds left, instead of three or four. Had the field goal not been returned, the Bucs could have had time for a Hail Mary.
As for the decision to kick, I don’t really care. It’s good practice, and I would hope Patricia wouldn’t have made that choice in the regular season. Matt Prater is good, but he’s also 34 years old and it was not exactly great field conditions to try at 60+ yard field goal.
For the rest of the game, the Lions’ starters just didn’t look anywhere near where they need to be to compete against other NFL teams. Obviously they don’t really need to be ready for another couple weeks, but this wasn’t promising.